Ahead of Ukraine’s upcoming FIFA World Cup 2014 Qualifying Play-Off against France it is only natural to look back into the past and Ukraine’s previous play-off campaigns.
Ukraine’s first foray into the play-offs came following the 1998 World Cup Qualifying Campaign. After impressing in a group containing European powerhouses Germany and Portugal, Ukraine came 2nd with only two defeats (away to both aforementioned sides) and qualified for the play-offs where they were drawn against Croatia.
Playing away first in Zagreb, Slaven Bilic gave Croatia a lead early on but Ukraine had chances to equalise and were denied a penalty when Serhiy Rebrov was felled in the box but Alain Sars (referee) waived play-on. At the start of the second half, Croatia doubled their advantage when Goran Vlaovic fired past Oleksandr Shovkovskyi. Ukraine later had a goal controversially disallowed by the French referee and will have felt agrieved to have lost the game 2:0.
In the second leg, Ukraine quickly got back on track as Andriy Shevchenko scored in the 5th to put Ukraine in the lead. Ukraine then thought they had levelled the scores, but once again they were denied by a controversial refereeing decision. Another goal was controversially ruled out, this time for an offside decision which replays subsequently proved to be the incorrect decision. This knocked the stuffing out of Ukraine and Alen Boksic equalised for Croatia, getting an away and sealing the tie. Heart break for Ukraine in their first play-off outting as the game finished 1:1.
Ukraine recovered from their heartbreak of 1998 World Cup Play-Off defeat and immediately returned to the Play-Offs for Euro 2000. It was a fantastic qualifying campaign for Ukraine as they went unbeaten, but ultimately they were pipped by a point by World Champions France. They beat Russia to 2nd spot after claiming a point in the last minute at the Luzhniki in the final group game.
In the Play-Offs, Ukraine were drawn against Slovenia. Playing away first, Ukraine took the lead through Andriy Shevchenko who scored a wonder strike. Slovenia then equalised through Zlatko Zlatovic. Dmytro Parfenov then received a second yellow card and an early bath to put Ukraine on the back foot. Ukraine then conceded a second through a mistake by keeper Olexandr Shovkovskyi which affected the keeper deeeply over the next few months. Andriy husin then received a second yellow as Ukraine went down to 9 men, to finish off a disappointing evening in Ljubljana with Slovenia winning 2:1.
The return leg in Kyiv was played in difficult conditions as a blizzard swept over the NSC Olympiyskyi. Ukraine were awarded a penalty in the 68th minute and Serhiy Rebrov made no mistake to put Ukraine ahead on the night and ahead on aggregate (away goals). Unfortunately it was not to be for Ukraine, as Miran Pavliv equalised for Slovenia to put them back in front on aggregate leaving Ukraine needing another goal. Ukraine had a few half chances to equalise but Slovenia defended with all their might and held on for a famous result and disappointment for Ukraine as the tie ended 1:1 on the night, and 3:2 on aggregate in Slovenia’s favour.
For the third time in succession, Ukraine proved to be second best in qualifying for the South Korea & Japan 2002 World Cup as they finished runners up to neighbours Poland. In the Play-offs, Ukraine were drawn against the mighty Germany and faced a difficult task from the out set. The first leg was played in Kyiv and Ukraine took an early lead when Gennadiy Zubov finished off after an Andriy Shevchenko free-kick found its way through the wall and fell in the Shakhtar mans path. Ukraine withheld something of a barrage as Germany piled on the pressure, and the visitors twice hitting the cross bar. Germany did eventually find the equaliser through inspirational Michael Ballack. The game in Kyiv finished 1:1, leaving Ukraine hope ahead of a difficult trip to Germany.
The game in Germany was something of a nightmare for Ukraine and it was over as a contest as Germany found themselves 3:0 and cruising within 15minutes with goals through Ballack, Oliver Neuville and Marko Rehmer. With the game essentially over and Germany heading to the World Cup, Ukraine rolled up their sleeves and tried to regain respect. It got worse before it got better for Ukraine as Ballack added a fourth. Andriy Shevchenko saved complete embarrassment for Ukraine as he scored a final minute consolation goal as the game finished 4:1 on the night and 5:2 on aggregate in favour of the Germans, who went on to finish runners up in the World Cup.
Ukraine’s most recent meeting with the Play-Offs again came in the World Cup Qualifiers this time ahead of South Africa 2010 (having successfully qualified for the 2006 World Cup). Ukraine finished behind England in the Group stages, edging out Croatia into the Play-Off spots. Here, Ukraine were drawn against Greece in a game they were expecting to win. The first leg was something of a drab affair as both sides were cautious and were not prepared to lose the game in the first leg, with it finishing 0:0.
The decisive game was held at the Donbas Arena with Ukraine hoping to end their Play-off hoodoo. Ukraine started on the front foot from the off as they took the game to Greece. Andriy Shevchenko missed a good opportunity to settle Ukraine and give them the lead as he hit his rebounded shout wide. Dimitrious Salphangidis then gave Greece the lead which then gave them a platform to defend off. Ukraine tried as they might but they could not get back into the game, squandering several really good opportunities. Once again, Ukraine failed to qualify through the Play-Offs as Greece held on for a 1:0 victory, leaving Andriy Shevchenko in tears.
Ukraine now have their fourth World Cup Qualifying Play-Off and their Fifth Play-Off in total as they prepare to face France.